ATLANTA – A shirtless man leaped through the window of an Atlanta school bus with about a dozen students aboard Thursday, overpowered the driver to take the wheel, then left the bus driverless as it careened down a steep hill, authorities said.
As the bus plunged, screaming students bounded out of the emergency exit in the back, said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Keith Bromery. Two students and the bus driver were injured, but not seriously, police said.
By the time 23-year-old suspect Arris Pitmon was arrested after the crash, he was naked, police said. A witness said the man lost his pants while trying to escape from bystanders, revealing only a condom.
"This was a weirdo," said witness Corey Turner. "Something was wrong with this guy. We turned him over and he just had a condom on. Maybe he was stripping or something — I had no earthly idea."
Pitmon jumped into the stopped bus as a student from Forest Hills Academy, which is grades seven through 12, was being dropped off in a southeast Atlanta neighborhood, said Atlanta Police Officer James Polite. He took control of the steering wheel, then left the seat to chase the driver, who had run to the rear, the officer said.
A student tried to take the wheel, but Polite said Pitmon fought him to regain control of the bus. The bus continued forward, left the roadway and crashed through a fence, finally stopping at a wall about 175 feet off the pavement about 4 p.m.
The 38-year-old Turner, who owns a small landscaping company, said he was cutting grass at a nearby church when he saw kids abandoning the bus, which looked like it was going about 25 mph.
One of the girls ran up to him and begged for help — "and everything went berserk," he said.
Turner and two of his employees bolted toward the bus, which had jumped the curb and rolled down the hill. One of the men blocked the front door, forcing Pitmon to the back. Turner said Pitmon then slipped out the back and tried to crawl under the bus, losing his pants in the process. Turner grabbed his leg and pulled him out.
He said he stood with his foot on the suspect for about 10 minutes before police came to arrest him.
Authorities didn't say whether Pitmon had a relationship with the bus driver. The suspect was in custody but police have not said what charges he faces.
Surveillance video from a nearby Citgo gas station showed the shirtless suspect crouching and fidgeting as he walked through the lobby before jumping aboard. A cashier said Pitmon seemed to be looking for someone.
"Suddenly, he was doing crazy things," said Mohamed Gulhamid, who works at the Citgo. "He was sitting down, he was trying to grab a customer's feet."
School officials are thankful that the bizarre hijacking didn't turn out worse.
"The bus was down a steep incline. If it had jumped the curb wrong, it could have turned over," said Bromery. "It was a precarious situation."
Turner, meanwhile, said he still can't believe what happened.
"This has been the craziest day I've ever had in my life," said Turner. "My concern was the children — we had to get them out of the bus. And it's a blessing that nobody got seriously hurt."
Kind of angry the bus driver ran to the back of the bus instead of keeping the attacker away from the kids.